ABU DHABI // Beat Al Ahli tonight and the Pro League title race will be as good as over. That is the view of Al Jazira's Brazilian manager Abel Braga. His team top the table and a victory tonight at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium will move them five points clear of Ahli with seven games left, including a home clash with Al Ain, who are the only other team with a realistic chance of catching Jazira.
Braga said: "We will have a clear picture of our chances after this game. I can't guarantee we are going to win the league if we win, but it surely will be a massive step forward. "We still have a long way to go after the Ahli game, but a five-point cushion will give us a huge advantage. And I'll be really, really surprised if we allow such an advantage slip away." Though he does not want to contemplate the prospect, a defeat would not be a calamity for the Brazilian either.
He added: "We will only be one point behind if we lose this game. So we will still be in the race until the last round of the league, if that happens. However, I am not thinking of losing this game." Jazira have lost just once in the league, a 1-0 defeat away to Ahli. Braga's men are unbeaten at home. "We have a score to settle [with Ahli] for sure, and three important points to win," said Braga. "Ahli are a strong team without any doubt. It is indeed a crucial game for them, as it is also for us."
The Jazira manager has a full squad to choose from including the midfielder Subait Khater, who returned to action after three weeks out with a leg injury to score a trademark free-kick in their 3-0 thrashing of Al Wasl last week. Set-piece specialist Khater is likely to line up alongside Ibrahim Diaky and Abdulsalaam Jumaa in midfield although Braga was keeping quiet about his team selection and tactics. He had his men training behind closed doors yesterday and said it was to try out a few ideas and to keep the players focused on the game.
"This is not something uncommon," he said. "We are preparing for the most important match in the league. We are trying out a few things and we want to do it without making it public. I have a full squad to select from and that will be done on the morning of the match." @Email:email@example.com